In perhaps the strangest basketball matchup of the NBA this season, the Tobias Harris-led, injury-riddled Sixers pulled off an incredible upset against the fully-stacked Brooklyn Nets. A game that was highly touted as Ben Simmons’s return to Philadelphia turned out to be a quiet, slightly above-average performance.
Though both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had solid performances, their scoring production was largely the result of uncontested shots in isolation – making both players seem deeply disconnected from the rest of the team. And despite a close score at times, the Sixers felt fully in control of the game from start to finish. Here are five key takeaways from one of the most hyped-up matchups of the season.
The Sixers bench *is* capable of putting up a solid offensive performance
The Philadelphia “underdog” mentality was on full display in South Philly Tuesday night, with the Sixers down Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey. Though the Sixers bench unit has been shaky to start the season, watching players like De’Anthony Melton, Paul Reed, Shake Milton, and Georges Niang step up to the plate and play like a first unit was deeply encouraging. Even Matisse Thybulle hit a 3! The Sixers have struggled with their depth – especially amongst guards – for years, and fans finally got to see the potential that this offseason’s acquisitions promised.
Paul Reed is a legit NBA player
No longer is the conversation about BBall Paul emphasizing his “potential” – he has demonstrated his ability to not only make a defensive powerhouse but to get to the rim as well. Reed put up a double-double including a career-high 19 points and 10 rebounds, plus 3 steals and 2 blocks. Not to mention the noticeable improvement in some of his weaker areas such as ball control. The Sixers’ task now is to continue developing Reed as a defensive threat, experiment with him in different lineups, and solidify him as Joel Embiid’s consistent primary backup.
Ben Simmons functions better as a role player.
Ben Simmons had a perfectly fine game, putting up a statline of 11 PT/11 AST/7 REB/3 STL/3 BLK. The Nets are primarily using him as a small-ball 5, which either puts him under the rim or in transition – two places he does well in. The problem, of course, is that that’s a role that’s not really aligned with a player who’s marketed – and paid – as a superstar. And as Sixers fans know all too well, it’s very difficult to have a superstar who is deficient enough in a key area (in Ben’s case, shooting) that you can only run in certain lineups without completely destroying offensive production. Ben, much like teammate Seth Curry, fills in particular team needs remarkably well – but he’s not a player you build a roster around.
Tobias Harris still has his magic charm in isolations.
Tobias Harris was the game-leading scorer at 24 points, and a substantial percentage of those came from beating a defender in isolated 1-on-1 situations. One thing that’s always given Tobias a bit of an edge is his size – he’s often much bigger than whoever is guarding him. While his role this season has primarily been as a catch-and-shoot or catch-and-pass, limited dribbling player, Tuesday’s game gave us a peak at the borderline All-Star season Tobias Harris. In the second half especially, Harris made good reads, used the size mismatch to his advantage, and capitalized on his strengths.
The Sixers are still a contender in the East.
Despite the swaths of off-court drama in Brooklyn, the Nets are still a top-rated team. It goes without saying that beating them while being down their three best players is meaningful for the Sixers. Though the Sixers have had plenty of setbacks, the season is still young, and if their bench keeps up this level of production, they’ll be a tough team to beat.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire